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You’re in charge. Now what?

What to do during the first 90 days in a leadership role


August 30, 2017
by Caroline Cole Power

Caroline Cole Power is the president and CEO of Canadian HR Solutions.

From the August 2017 print edition

Congratulations! Whether this new role is with your existing employer or a new one, many of the same dynamics come to bear. A change in leadership is, likely, a significant transition for employees. Their reaction will depend on the relationship that they had with the previous leader and how they feel about this person’s departure. The following are a few things that you can do to increase your likelihood of a successful transition.

1. Don’t make sudden changes: New leaders often feel pressured to make a strong positive impact on the company immediately. This is understandable because often during the recruitment process hiring managers stress the importance of the selected candidate being able to hit the ground running. Another message that is often played to candidates is the need for them to be a change agent. Because of these and other messages newly hired leaders many times rush into the mode of changing procedures, processes, and systems right out of the blocks, at their peril.
When you first take over a team as their new leader you don’t know what you don’t know. You need to get to know each person, professionally and personally. Next, you don’t know how they will relate to you as their leader so you are unable to adjust your style to make the relationship effective. Next, you haven’t yet earned their trust. Yes, you may have their respect but it takes more effort and time to build trust than to garner respect. One cannot lead well without being trusted.

2. Meet one-on-one with each direct report: Use these meetings to learn what’s important to each employee and how you can support them in achieving their goals. We get what we want from people when we help them get what they want.

What are some talking points for the one-on-ones? Ask them about their career goals, their frustrations at work, and what they need from you to be successful. Reveal enough about yourself, your leadership style and some previous experiences that you’ve had. Don’t be afraid to admit some of your vulnerabilities and areas where you will need their help. Hearing about your work background directly from you can go a long way toward building personal engagement.

Depending on your operation’s size and structure, your direct reports may have direct reports of their own. In that case, ask when would be a good time to meet as a group. Let them choose the time and setting. These meetings will give you opportunities to take the pulse of employees in other departments, branches or geographic areas who come under your new chain of command.

It’s a best practice that one-on-ones continue after the first 90 days. Keep them going as they provide a forum for you to stay in touch with each direct report. You can provide performance feedback, add new responsibilities, get feedback, and more. Meetings like these help you to sustain a connection to your team.

3. Build team cohesion: Establish team meetings to create a forum for your new direct reports to meet with you and each other, together, on a regular basis. This is great for cross-pollination of ideas, fosters collaboration and strengthens team cohesiveness.

Lean on the team for their expertise—it’s not a good idea to begin your new role with the attitude of having all the answers. You don’t. You have people who are hired to do a job and, as a leader, you are more effective if you let them do it. By doing that you also free up your time to do your job, which is to lead.

So, lean on them and expect them to deliver. Let them lean on you for providing access to resources, support and encouragement. Many unmotivated people simply need leaders who have confidence in them.

4. Be clear about your goals: One of the scariest things for teams with new leaders is to try to figure out what the boss’s expectations are. Take the mystery out of that as soon as you can. After you have met with everyone, step back, reflect, and develop short-term and long-term goals for your operation. Communicate your goals to your team and provide them with opportunities to ask questions.

5. Have at least one big win: Deliver on something that you know is important to the company. The team that brought you on board or promoted you will be watching to see what impact you have made in your first few months. Whatever it is, it must be noticeable.